Tequila. Mexican Food. Put them in your mouth. Preferably, at the same time.

Love tequila? Next Tuesday should be a treat. Six courses, Herradura and El Jimador tequila, $70

That is a sweet deal friends, get amongst.

Send you requests for bookings to mumma@barriochino.com.au or call 02 8021 9750

Bar, Restaurant, Sydney

Barrio Chino

Off the back of his Outstanding achievement award at the 2010 Australian Bar Awards, an appearance alongside Martha Stewart and the success at The Dutch in NYC, Startender Naren Young is back in Sydney for ten days only.

Bedding down the beverage program at Barrio Chino, and tapping Tecates for a few friends, he has shrugged off the time difference and looks 100% at home.

Barrio Chino is a new Mexican paradise, tucked down Bayswater Rd.

The food was getting great raps from everyone who’s eaten there. The type of fresh Mexican flavours that are such a rarity here. Naren has spent these last many years involved in the setting up of what the Amercians like to call beverage programs. Essentially, what gets delivered is a restaurant and bar that exist side by side. The bar is good enough it could thrive on its own, so is the restaurant. Paired together, they are a potent force.

I will be back to try the food directly, but the bar is great on its own. A real showcase of agave and its many facets.

There are masterful touches everywhere.

On the back bar there are some rarites, curiousities and even a couple of legends.

The list offers a handful of choices. Jar shaken pitchers of Tommy’s, balance perfect, perhaps the shareable first round available in the country.

The breakfast margarita picks up all the sweet zesty goodness that marmalade has to offer, but with the addition of an earthy agave heart that will leave you wondering why you’ve made this drink when any other spirit. The options offer a range of texture and formats. Long, short, touched with seductive smoky hint of mezcal. All singing, all dancing, all agave.

I would challenge any person who doesn’t like tequila to not find a drink that becomes their favourite.

The bar also signature serves Tecate, complete with gingery salt encrusted limes. Squeeze the juice into your can and knock it back.

Get into it.

Barrio Chino

28-30 Bayswater Rd, Kings Cross

ph. 8021 9750

On Google maps here.


Five Margaritas for Cinco de Mayo

It is the fifth of May, and for many Americans, and increasingly Latino communities around the world, it is a day to celebrate Mexican pride, culture and heritage, by drinking salty pools of Margarita and eating tacos.

The day itself is understood by many to be the Mexican Independence day, which is actually celebrated of September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of a great battle, between 4000 Mexicans and 8000 well equipped Frenchmen, who hadn’t been beaten in more than 50 years. It is a holiday observed only in the state of Puebla, where the battle occurred.

This historical nonsense aside, it is a great excuse to cook Mexican food and drink Tequila. Which I’ll certainly be doing tonight.

The Cuervo Margarita.

The easiest to produce of all the pantheon of tequila cocktails.

Take 30mls of any of the Cuervo family of tequila’s, add 90mls of Cuervo Margarita Mix, shake over ice and strain into a ice filled rocks glass with a salted rim (if you like*).

A Better Margarita

This requires a bottle of Grand Marnier and a few seconds more to produce.

Take 30mls of a 100% agave tequila, like Cuervo Tradicional, and 60mls freshly squeezed lime juice, 15mls Grand Marnier, shake over ice and strain into a ice filled rocks glass with a salted rim (if you like*).

Tommy’s Margarita

A masterpiece of simplicity that features the character of different tequilas brilliantly. From Tommy’s in San Fran.

Take 60mls 100% agave tequila, at Tommy’s they use Arete, I suggest trying a range of different products and making your own call, 30mls freshly squeezed lime juice and 30mls agave syrup (try a wholefoods store, if you haven’t seen this before.) shake over ice and strain into a ice filled rocks glass with a salted rim (if you like*).

The Billionaire’s Margarita

Follow the directions for the better margarita, but use Reserva de Familia and Grand Marnier Cuvee De Centenaire. Should only be attempted with a healthy bank balance.

The Toreador

Not strictly a Margarita, but at least a cousin. Replace the Grand Marnier with Apricot Brandy, and, as evidenced in the last one of these Dr Phil at Eau de Vie made me, try this drink with Calle 23 Blanco.

The Sixth Margarita

Having made it home and discovered both somewhat surprisingly that Jose Cuervo’s recipe is far too light on the tequila for my tastes, and somewhat  unsurprisingly that a bottle of Cuvee de Centenaire had not magically appeared in my cabinet so I made the drink in the picture.

*A note of salting the rim, I think this practice came from a time when tequila often contained hydrogen sulfide and the salt and citrus combo neutralised both the chemical and its rotten egg scent, not really essential in a world of quality industrial production. Really a matter of personal taste.

Mañana chicas.

Cocktail, Sydney, Wine

Disaster Bay Chilli Wine

A new find at the Saturday morning markets in Kings Cross, a chilli grower from Disaster Bay, basically as far south in New South Wales as it is possible to get.

While they also produce a fantastic sauces, it was the chilli wine bottle that caught my eye and taste. Produced by the fermentation of bush ripened chillies, the wine has a sweet (they call it dessert wine), winey taste, with a great finish of mild heat. Kind of like a chili vermouth, minus some of the herbal middle.

I’ve been playing around with it and tequila. Kind of using it as vermouth for tequila. Early days yet, but it does produce some tasty results in my first experiments.

Two rabbits in a bag.

45mls Cazadores Reposado Tequila, 15mls Disaster Bay Chilli Wine, 2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters.

Combine ingredients over ice and stir well. Strain up and garnish with a peel of lime.

Special prize for anyone who can link the name to the drink.

Cocktail, November is Tequila Month


Great upload from the team at Eau de Vie today. Seeing as I’ve been writing about tequila this month it seemed only apt that I look the gift horse full in the mouth and drink it down. This fantastic cocktail is garnished with a Murray River salt rim, which helps the drought stricken farmers a little too.

A cocktail you can drink and feel good about at the same time, brilliant.


Pour a decent measure of Don Julio Blanco over ice and top with freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lime and the aforementioned Murray River salt rim, which you’ll probably want to sort out first, as rimming is tough with a full vessel.

This is a great example of an Eau de Vie drink. You could order it anywhere, and some people might even know how to make one off the bat, but it will be brilliantly finished and perfectly made down the back corridor of the Kirketon Hotel, and refreshing like you wouldn’t believe.

November is Tequila Month, Spirit


As a brand in Australia, Tapatio is pretty much unknown outside of the bartending community. Eau de Vie, with their comprehensive collection of spirituous liquors does not have one of these amongst their shelves. There are however two (or, at least, their were four months ago) clustered in the hanging luscious fruits at Der Raum in Melbourne.

Tapatio is not sold outside of Mexico, possibly because of a trademark dispute with El Tapatio Hot Sauce. Bottles to be found  in Australia are generally wrapped in layers of clothes and smuggled across the border, the result of big brand junkets or the occasional self-funded pilgrimage to tequila’s promised land, the mountain state of Jalisco.

Tapatio is the word for a local from Guadalajara in Jalisco. It can be used to associate pretty much any person or object with that location. For any of you pertaining to be semantic etymologists, the word has its origins in pre-Colombian times, from tapatiotl, a monetary unit of the Nahuatl language, spoken by the Aztec peoples.

The tequila itself, for me at least, defines the category. Well distilled, sweet & smooth with a wonderful body of earthy agave flavour. It is worth the effort of seeking out and finding a bottle, and certainly the one to ask for if you have friends in Mexico stupid enough to offer to be your tequila mule.

You might expect that a product as good as this must have made the leap out of the market and into the rest of the world. You’d be absolutely correct. Tapatio distills another brand at its home, El Tersoro de Don Felipe and I’ll be writing about that, next week.

NOM 1139

November is Tequila Month

I was drinking the tequila with the lemon and salt.

Some people call it training wheels, some call it a waste of good tequila, I’m going out on a limb to say most people experience tequila for the first time with a couple of aids; lemon, salt and perhaps a little bit of a death wish.

It remains the fastest way to strip your taste buds and render taste as much absent as useless altogether. I have heard many tales of its non-Mexican origins, and it certainly seems to fit amongst such tastebud slamming 80’s creations as the kamikaze.

It was with more than a little surprise I read David Embury’s couple of paragraphs talking of a Mexican friend heading up across the border during Prohibition with a bottle, concealed presumably. He performs the Mexican Itch, a lick of salt, a squeeze of lemon on the tongue and a wash of tequila to follow it down.

Is this much derided ritual a hangover from the cheaply distilled and foul smelling mixtos? While I sit here sipping on an extra anejo, a ritual to eliminate the flavour seems very out of place. Embury obviously felt differently, and outlined his views in a very clear manner.

I’d like to think if he was here and now, in this renaissance of the distilled spirit we are entering, he’d be willing to at least hit a few bottles and maybe reconsider.

I’ll let you know if I find out something else.

photo credit to marmak on flickr

November is Tequila Month, Spirit

Cazadores Blanco

The one with the deer on it.

Cazadores does not have the best stories as a tequila brand, production does not predate the settlement of Australia. There are no special releases mixed with the ancient family stock, no signature release in an adorned custom flask.

The bones however, are very good. Like all great tequila stories, it starts with a man and his recipe in 1922. Kept as a family secret for three generations, the blend finally made it to the wider market in 1973 when Jose Maria Bañuelos’ grandson founded a distillery, calling the liquid inside the bottle Cazadores – “the hunters” to acknowledge his grandfathers passion in hunting down his dream and placed his grandfathers favourite animal on the bottle as well.

The distillery was acquired by the Bacardi family in 2001. They probably liked the fact it had an animal on the label.

Only 100% agave is distilled here, with the agave harvested from highland plantations. Only one other marque, Corzo, is produced at the distillery. What they lack in history they makeup by using the best techniques and best agave to produce the highest quality end product.

The blanco is a little sweet, really well distilled and soft. There are really nice citrus and pepper notes in it too. It maybe lacks some of the earthy body I’ve become so accustomed too, but I can’t wait to try it out on a Margarita or in a slighty greater than equal parts take on Negroni’s holy trinity.

You can find a bottle here for a smidgen under $60. That makes it probably the best value 100% agave tequila available in Australia.

A great start if you’re looking for a bottle to kick off a collection, or something that you can throw into some cocktails without feeling too guilty.

NOM 1487

November is Tequila Month

So, what makes tequila special?

I have heard more than a few folks mention that tequila is an abomination. They’re probably more right than they know…

Tequila, like champagne, is a location specific product that is actively protected by taking legal action on any and all who try and infringe upon this, Mexico’s national brand.  Originally, certified production was limited to Jalisco state, but through the 1970’s lobbying extended the regions allowed to cover a much larger area. To be labeled tequila, the Agave tequilana, or blue agave must be cultivated in this region and the processes must conform to strict guidelines.

Despite this increased legal spread, the very best product come from the Valles region of Jalisco state, an area now enshrined as a World Heritage site and including the three settlements of Tequila, Arenal and Amatitan. The valley lies in the shadow of the Tequila volcano, which erupted around 200,000 years ago and covered the region with a layer of rich volcanic soils and drainage perfectly suited to the culitivation of the Agave tequilana.

It is not all sweetness and light however. The blue agave is known as the century plant, as it takes a long time to flower, sometimes up to a century but more often around the halfway mark. All agave are monocarpic, meaning they take a long time to grow, flower once and die. Suckers at the base of the flower mast (pictured above) can be used to propagate new planting, but the long growth cycle and the early harvesting of the plant for tequila production has meant the genetic material of the blue agave lacks somewhat in diversity and has become susceptible to a number of fungal and pest threats in recent years.

After planting the Jimadores, the specialist farmers of agave will remove the bud of the flower stalk, causing the piña or heart of the plant to swell.  If the plant does not succumb to these threats and diseases, between its 8th and 12th year the concentration of sugars will reach a level sufficient (around 24 Brix) to support fermentation and the production of the mash that will be distilled into the final product. The agave plant can only be harvested by hand. Jimadores will walk the rows and select the plants ripe enough for harvest. They then remove the spiny fronds of the plant until only the piña remains, it is then transported back to the hacienda to become tequila.

The skill is a lot harder than it looks, and to many unhardened hands, the plant causes contact dermatitis, due to the presence of raphides, essentially microscopic slivers of calcinate that have evolved as a defence against herbivore attacks. After the initial painful redness, they can remain lodged in your skin and causes itching bouts for up to a year after exposure.

These two elements help explain the cost of a bottle of premium tequila. Unilke, say, a single malt, whose grows up thick and strong every year, a 12 year wait to claim the fruits of horticulture means a significant investment in cultivation and the artisanal nature of the harvest must up the rates, even at Mexican wage prices.

The piña are halved and baked at low temperatures for up to three days to further concentrate the sugars and free them from the pulpy prison. The size of the ovens changes depending on the size of the distillery and it’s particular method. The large one above is at the Tapatio distillery, which is probably better known as El Tresoro de Don Felipe to those outside of Mexico.

The syrupy piña are then pressed to release the juices. The rotary stone is considered by many to be the traditional method, and donkey power is still used at some small production products, rather than the Deere power on show above. Cuervo use a device more akin to an olive press and Olmeca swears by a particular type of volcanic wheel. The differences in production are subtle, but I would encourage you to work out what they are, I’m still learning but I’ll get there someday, after a few more bottles.

The juice is fermented, the mash distilled. A couple of times is pretty common. It’s then bottled, or aged and shipped across the world to unleash a potent spirit that bears an element of terrior, that would impress a French wine snob. You can, quite literally, taste the earth in the product. The skill of distillation in preserving that, and the subtle addition of spice and chocolate to the mix makes for a truly indulgent drop.

More on aging statements, 100% Agave vs Mixto and NOM numbers later in the month…



November is Tequila Month

So, I’m drinking Cactus Juice yeah?

Tequila is made by distilling the part of the Agave tequilana plant (pictured above.) Despite it’s prickly green appearance, and desert location, it is actually not a cactus. Agave are native succulents, centered on the land bridge of Mexican Central America, but spreading both North and South onto the larger continents.  Surprisingly they’re more closely related to the Asparagus genetically, but the 202 or so species in their group sit in a pretty isolated spot from anything else in the botanical realms.

Records show that the members of the species have been cultivated for around 1800 years. For at least 1000 of those years there have been people going crazy on some form of alcoholic beverage, the oldest one we know about is puluqe. This white, syrupy, milky substance is made from the fermented sap of any one of six of the agave family. Famously the pulquerias have floors of sawdust, and the liquid served from a bucket. Popularity of puluqe waned as stories of the use of muñeca, essentially a bag of shit, used to kickstart the fermentation process. I’m not sure if the stories are true, but the immigrant beer brewers fanned the flames of a great ‘opportunity.’

The Spanish had been gifted the art of distillation by the Moorish conquerers and had been hard at it by the time their colonisation of the Americas had begun. While it’s possible the series of advanced stone age societies had developed distillation separate from its Middle Eastern roots, the Conquistadors started to experiment with making a ferment mash of agave. The result of this is mescal. The heart of the agave is baked in an earth oven, causing the sugars to concentrate, they are pulped and the resulting juice fermented and distilled. The eau de vie that comes from the still is earthy, smoky and quite wonderful. It has become more popular again lately, and some of the single village products mirror the range and complexities of the Scottish single malt scene, if not the volume, yet.

All tequila is mescal, but not all mescal is tequila.

More on that, tomorrow.

November is Tequila Month, Spirit

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia

Jose Cuervo is probably responsible for more headaches and ill-advised one night stands that any brand producing alcohol around the globe. The popularity of their Joven mixto, Cuervo Especial, means the brand defines the category for many of the folks who stand on the side of the bar that has comfy seats and plush carpeting.

While the brands heritage is firmly in cheap mixto tequilas, filling more than one varsity paddling pool with a communal margarita I am sure, they have also been in the 100% agave business for some time as well.

Reserva de la Familia represents the pinnacle† of the Cuervo range. It is made with spirit distilled from only the best part of hand selected piña and then aged in French oak for between three and four years. That much alone would make this a quality product, but wait, there’s more. The extra añejo tequila is then blended with material from the Cuervo family reserve, some of it up to thirty years old. The result is a very smooth product, with some incredible complexity and sweetness from the rest and the old drops, but also retaining a hefty earthy oomph that all good tequila should display. I doesn’t need ice, salt, mixers or to be downed in one go. It might not be the best tequila available on this blue-green earth, and certainly some pine on about its hefty price tag but I’m extremely happy to have a tot each night when I head home, and with only 17,000 bottles being produced each year, the price is probably relative.

It was first produced in 1995, to commemorate 200 years since the Cuervo family received a Royal warrant from the King of Spain to produce tequila. Settlers‡ had only arrived in Australia 7 years earlier, to put that into perspective.

The Reserva de la Familia comes in a rather handsome box, which changes each year. You can see the history here, not sure why some years get two, or three different boxes while others get one, but I’m sure if I keep drinking the tequila I’ll be able to work it out. Mine is the striking orange one, but my all time favourite would have to be the tiger in the picture above. Each one is designed by a local artist too, which I reckon is a pretty nice touch.

The use of older, retained vintages (while not a solera aging system) and the use of local artisans certainly seems reminiscent of another brand ion Diageo portfolio, the famed Ron Zacapa. It seems like a massive call, but I reckon the stuff in the bottle stacks up.

These guys have it online in Australia for $195. That said, you can find it online for around $90 U.S. and as the Aussie dollar hit parity today, the $100 difference might buy a reasonable amount of shipping… Let me know if you find a U.S. retailer who ships to this market.

† Well, almost the pinnacle. Check out the 250 Aniversario site for a really top notch and impossible to find product. You will need to register for an invitation code…

‡ Settlers… Convicts if we are really being honest…

November is Tequila Month, Spirit

This November, I’ll be mostly drinking Tequila.

Sometimes, as I write about spirits and drinking in general, I forget that alcohol is a drug. It changes your consciousness, it makes you do silly things and best of all, it makes it difficult to remember them.

Spend enough time with a person and you’ll usually find out that there is one spirit that takes the blame. One drink that they just can’t stomach because of a bad experience. I find quite often that the spirit is Tequila.

Now, I’m not sure that you can blame an inanimate object for an obvious lack of self control, and certainly it wasn’t that long ago I would have been on the self same hating bandwagon. Something, however, has changed. An introduction to 100% agave tequila, the ritual of sangrita and the explosion of quality brands around the world have firmly changed my mind.

As such, I thought I would string together 30 days worth of Tequila content to dispell a few myths, share a few gems and hopefully, change a few minds.


Olmeca Altos

Looks like Bacardi Originals are not the only people to be harnessing the power of the webisode to spread a brand message. Like Bacardi, they’re using the star power of known bartenders to help their contnet connect, but this also has a documentary style, I would say increases it’s potential audience and feels more ‘real’.

It also probably arms normal† people with more knowledge than they’ve ever had on the process behind the manufacture of the wonderful Mexican spirit.

There’s a whole YouTube channel here too.

† You know, the one’s the brand managers call ‘consumers’


World Class Sangrita Finals coming to Sydney

They’ve already been held in Brisbane an Melbourne, and on the 18th they’ll be coming to Sydney. Diageo’s World Class comp to find the best Sangrita ritual is uncovering some great looking drinks.

Sangrita is a traditional accompaniment to tequila in Mexico. It’s flavour is meant to tease more of the taste profile from the spirit, and probably assuage the drunkenness that pounding tequila straight for hours on end must inevitably deliver.

I’ll write more about the tradition later this week, but Monday 18th October at the Lincoln in the Cross, from 7, come down and cheer. I’ll be judging and trying to look as though I know what I’m doing.



Gran Patrón Burdeos

This is the first of what promises to be a series of extremely fine, and extremely rare spirits from around the globe. To my brethren from the Southern hemisphere, you will unfortunately know the pain I feel most days when I read of finds and tastes from my friends in the US and Europe, that I’m not going to find here in Australia, daily basis or no.

To my friends up North, these might not be the boutique cottage productions you flaunt so readily in your recipes and posts but they are at least as rare, and in most cases prohibitively expensive. Hopefully a few you might not have heard of, certainly a few of these were new to me. It’s nice to finally get a score on the board.

Enough pontificating, let’s talk about the Gran Patrón Burdeos, in the gorgeous bottle above. Anyone remotely in touch with popular drinking culture will be familiar with the Patrón marque, whose rough finished bottles with the round cork stopper found a fast and faithful market with the celebrity set who’ve carried the brand around the globe. An even luckier few might have laid lips on Gran Patrón which exchanged glass for crystal, added a third distillation and added a couple of hundred bucks to the price tag.

The Burdeos has another couple of steps. First the twice distilled spirited is rested in barrels of American and French Oak for a period of at least a year. It is then distilled a third time and racked in Bordeaux barrels, Luxist seems to think they are from Chateau Margaux, which would justify the massive price jump, but I can’t find confirmation of that anywhere else. You’ll get the fine unleaded crystal bottle you see above, the bee crystal stopper and a specially designed corkscrew to get at the stuff to begin with.

The spirit itself is very fine, the sawdusty funk you expect from the 100% agave tequilas has mellowed with its marriage in oak and the Bordeaux treatment adds some sweetness, vanilla and dried fruits to the mix. It is very moorish and extremely palatable.

If you’re lucky enough to be offered a taste, you’d be a fool not to. I’ve never seen in on sale here in Australia, but the truly keen amongst you can buy a bottle here for US$699 plus the postage. You’ll get a nice black walnut box included in that price too.

If anyone was stuck on what to get me for Christmas, this would definitely tick all the boxes.

Bar, Restaurant, Sydney

Café Pacifico


Tucked in the wrong end of Darlinghurst, close to William St and a short downhill stretch from Oxford you can ascend a red staircase to the gods.

A crowded bar on most nights, packed to the gunnels on weekends, Phil Bayly provides the cities best collection of 100% agave tequila. Book for dinner, but arrive early enough for just a couple of libacious treats before you sit to eat. First on my list would have to be a Tommy’s Margarita, a heavenly mix of tequila, limes and agave syrup. It is quite simply one of the best drinks in the whole wide world. The bartenders here are great, so try anything with a reasonable degree of certainty. There’s a great selection of rums available behind the bar as well.

A visit would not be complete without taking a seat for real great Cal-Mex food. order liberally, add a few jugs of Magrarita or Mexican Sangria to keep everyone pounding along. The Fajitas are awesome, order a few different things to share.

Stay for the nightly shots, sangrita and streamers accompanying cheesy tequila tracks.

A great night all round.

95 Riley St, East Sydney NSW 2010, Australia
+61 2 9360 3811

Google map here.


The Old Fashioned

Picture 4

On May 13, 1806, The Balance and Colombia Repository printed the first known definition of the word “cocktail”

`Cocktail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling`

This somewhat unsavoury sounding mix is what we today call the Old Fashioned. 

Like almost all things alcohol related, there are disputes as to who coined the name instead of it just remaining ‘Cocktail,’ the members of the Pendennis Club claimed for some time in their blustery Colonel Sanders way that the name belonged to a Bourbon Cocktail made in the club. David Wondrich, who looks not dissimilar to a member of the Pendennis Club, discounted this theory by uncovering a wealth of examples of the use of the word prior to the Club’s foundation in 1880.

But I digress.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail

Take a sugar cube* and douse it in three or four belts from a bottle of Angostura Bitters, slide this into the bottom of an Old Fashioned glass. I use at least 60 of good quality Bourbon in my version, Maker’s Mark would be a fine choice. Add a little of the Bourbon, with a couple of pieces of ice and start stirring. Keep adding a little more Bourbon, a little more ice and perhaps around 15 mls water. 

The result is an amazingly balanced, rich and seductive elixir. 

*I prefer to use a cube of sugar as the time it takes to get it to dissolve is around the same time it take to mellow this drink to a superior level.


This cocktail is amazingly adaptable, you can change out the spirit for a Rye Whiskey, Brandy, Cognac or Rum.

At Toko on Crown St they do a Old Fashioned with Junipero Gin and there is a fashionable trend for Tequila Old Fashioneds around the world right now.

Once you’ve tried a variety of spirits, perhaps making a move on to changing out the bitters. Peychaud’s, Fee Brothers Peach or Orange Bitters, even Aperol or Campari. I’ll post an article later in the week about the process of homemaking bitters as well, to really change things up.

This really is a drink for the ages, we’ll be putting this up against the Trans-Galactic GargleBlaster when we make it to the restaurant at the end of time.

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Part Three in a Four Part Series called The Glorious Recipe.

The most important part of any cocktail is the delightful elixir that gives a libation spirit. 

Crude distillation has been practiced for around 4000 years, with the first cab off the rank being in Iraq, where the technology was later used by the incumbent dictator, Saddam Hussein, to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.225px-jabir_ibn_hayyan The ancient Greeks really pulled things together, as they discovered man love, mass debate and tipsiness really did go hand in hand. An Arab by the name of Jabir ibn Hayyan was the man who really set the path toward the high grade ethanols we use to fuddle our brains today. Earning the mantle polymath, his techniques allow for the production of quality chemicals without ‘heads or tails’ so prominent in cheap liquor to this day.

Pretty much every culture that has managed to pull together a political system has also managed to master the technology of refining spirit. Because the refining part is secondary to fermentation, the breaking down of organic material and sugar in the presence of yeast to create alcohol, each country, region and tribe came up with recipes based on local taste and more often, local ingredients.

I’ll cover off the most common types of spirit in this article, to give you the sparest understanding of this wonderful, variety filled world.


The world’s most popular spirit. Originally from Poland, vodka is prolific in Eastern and Northern Europe and production has spread to countries as far away as New Zealand (42BELOW, 20000), The United States (Skyy) and Scotland (Smirnoff).

Primarly made from grain, vodka is also made with potato, grapes and milk whey. The spirit has become popular as Absolut has flooded the market with made up flavours supplied by the big assed building just off the Jersey turnpike. Other producers flavour their vodkas with perfumery techniques or the addition of Bison Grass.


The spirit of rum can only be made in a country that grows sugarcane. There are two basic types. The first is made from molasses, an extract produced in the refining or sugar for export. The second is Agricole or Cachaca, which is made from the juice of the sugarcane, unrefined. This approach can produce smoother rums, but aging evens the playing field.


Perhaps the spirit that has spread the furtherest around the world, probably on the backs of Irish migrants and Scottish sea captains. The name itself means water of life. Whisk(e)y is made from fermented grain mash; malted barley, barley, rye, wheat and maize are the most common types.

The Irish and the Americans use the (e) to spell the word, the Scots, Japanese & Canucks drop it.

Scotch Whisky is generally made from malted barley that has been treated with peat, giving it the taste it is famous for. Anything labelled Scotch must be distilled in Scotland. The age on the bottle must reflect the youngest whisky in the blend.

Irish Whiskey must be distilled in Ireland and aged in wooden casks for a period not less than three years. Generally made from unpeated malt barley.

American Whiskey must look, smell and taste like Whiskey. Bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn, Rye must be made from at least 51% rye, Corn whiskey must be at least 80% corn, Straight whiskeys are made with less than 51% of any single grain. Tennessee whiskey is made the same way as Bourbon, but is filtered through the charcoal of the Sugar Maple.


Mother’s Ruin is unmistakably English, the addition of quinine to tonic to ward off malaria made it the drink of an Empire.

Two basic types, Distilled Gin, which is made by re-distilling neutral grain spirit and cane sugar that have been flavored with the berries of the juniper bush. The other type, Compound Gin, is essentially a gin flavored vodka. 

Gin is my favorite spirit and will get it’s own article later, so I won’t trifle the history too much. The London style of Gin is the most popular around the world, which is identified by the addition of botanicals to the distillate. These botanicals have great names like orris root, cassia bark and angelica. Newer style gins also make use of rose, cucumber and other local botanicals.


Made from the agave cactus. much more to come on this later.


The spirit of China. a distillate of rice or sorghum mash. pineappley and petrol like.

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